Xenia just found a fun new toy. Well, actually, it's a very sophisticated research management tool, but I'm a nerd, so I guess this qualifies as a fun toy for me. Mendeley integrates desktop software and a Web-based social research network to bring back the fun to researching. Bring back the fun? There was never fun to be had. Well this, my friend, is about to change…or so I hope. Mendeley addresses referencing and paper management issues and a whole lot more. After a couple of days of testing and — how else could it be — researching, I’m on the hype and eager to share.
Let’s start with a disclaimer: I’m not a tech-nerd. I love science and philosophy, but I don’t usually write about software or whatever is new on the Web. I’m writing this because Mendeley is a great tool for people interested in science. Although Mendeley is presented as the up and coming social networking Web 2.0 site for researchers, I’d like to show you how this gadget can be used as an e-learning tool for like-minded non-academics and students alike. It’s free, it’s intuitive and it’s backed by a promising concept and a dedicated team. I’m writing about Mendeley because I want other people who like to learn collaboratively to join the ride. Like all social networking systems, Mendeley will improve its performance and practicality with the growth of its user base. So I’m not entirely altruistic in giving you this information.
A few basic features — what Mendeley can do for you:
- The Mendeley site has a clean look, so it doesn’t overwhelm new users with cluttered information or distract and interrupt the workflow, also the software is easy to install and use.
- Mendeley indexes and organizes your PDF files and research papers like a playlist. You can tag, search and filter your documents and group them into labeled collections. Mendeley integrates an academic software component with a Web-based research network, which also functions as a backup system that’s in sync with the digital bibliography on your computer. This means you can work on your project or paper at home, on a shared campus library computer or anywhere you have Internet access.
- You can import old document details and citations through CiteULike and add new ones including, when possible, PDF files with a click of a bookmarklet in your browser.
- You can create bibliographies in Word and OpenOffice.
- Ultimately the makers of Mendeley would like to enable the program to automatically extract metadata and cited references from PDFs.
Full-text search, viewer and annotation tool: Mendeley lets you highlight and annotate your PDF files with sticky notes in the internal PDF-viewer of Mendeley desktop. The new version will enable the synchronization of the annotated versions with colleagues. This, I believe, holds great potential for collaborative work, just as…
Sharing academic papers: I'm participating in a course at the Peer 2 Peer Universtity. Mendeley might be enriching for different kinds of open educational projects, by enabling users to communicate about their reading habits and sharing their thoughts about specific text-passages in the assigned literature. Mendeley will eventually implement a group feature for the shared document collections, so that filesharing could be discussed in a blog-like or wiki-like format (German Interview with a co-founder of Mendeley).
Research statistics: Since Mendeley anonymously collects and analyzes the data users provide through the use of their online bibliographies on Mendeley Web, Mendeley can share information about the reading behavior of the scientific community and research trends with you. This isn’t as trivial as it sounds and might change how research is conducted and eventually mediated. This is a major reason for me to use Mendeley; it might change “the journal impact factor through real-time transparent statistics.”
Recommendation engines: Unfortunately, this has not been realized as till now, but this also will be a really cool e-learning tool. Imagine the older brother, sharing his record collection with you before you had your own taste in music. He has been replaced by last.fm. Mendeley can have educational value by being a virtual teacher, who can point to undiscovered intellectual terrain within the field of the students interest.
Open-Access: Although Mendeley will not be a platform to share documents as Napster shared music files, researchers are encouraged to post their own papers on their profiles, thereby making them publicly available. Some of my Professors load their published papers onto their Web sites, with Mendeley, one could find these papers easily.
I'm not only impressed with the product, I'm enticed by the perspectives it brings to working and learning. Not only is it a handy referencing tool, there are other products equally usable, it might change how scientists research and communicate with each other. Thereby, Mendeley can enhance university-level e-learning by anonymously aggregating metadata of the papers read and making the statistics available to its users and in future even making recommendations. In the long run, I hope Mendeley can open science up to the public and further scientific investigation. By the way, I also like their cute little squishy logo.